By Aisha Bahadur
Outside Africa’s annual meeting of mining corporates and senior government officials, activists protested the exclusion of civil society that represent the actual owners of the continent’s huge mineral wealth chanting, “nothing about us without us”.
In its 19th year, the Indaba is no small affair; 7,500 participants and representation from 1,800 companies have gathered in Cape Town, South Africa for the event taking place from 4th to 7th February. Delegates come from 100 countries and in addition to those representing mining and government, there is a good sprinkling of those representing financial firms.
South Africa is keen to portray that it is business as usual after the Marikana incident in which 34 mineworkers were shot dead by police in August last year, related violence and high levels of industrial unrest in the mining sector for almost all of the second half of 2012.
‘No more Marikanas please’ is what government is asking of business. Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu, gave business the assurance that South Africa will not nationalise the mines and called for an end to discussions and debates on nationalisation. That’s government holding up their end to rebuild investor confidence, but business needs to keep up theirs, which Shabangu spells out as labour conditions at the mines must improve and industrial unrest needs to be avoided.
It seems quite a gentle approach but Shabangu has been criticised for not being soft enough on mining companies, badly bruised by the events of 2012, in particular her firm objection to Anglo Platinum’s intention to retrench 14, 000 workers. Anglo Platinum, which recorded a loss for 2012, is expecting workers to bear the brunt of this, laying blame on workers for the two month strike at its Rustenburg operations. However, Anglo Platinum was on a poor trajectory before the industrial unrest, as a result of high cost inputs, in particular of electricity and water and low platinum prices. Anglo Platinum controls most of the world’s platinum production and so can increase demand and the price of platinum by reducing its output. The company intends to do just that by closing two of its mines and selling another.
A billboard as you enter Cape Town from the airport, tells you how Anglo Platinum is keeping its promise to build 26,000 houses. There should be one next to it saying ‘Amplats giveth and Amplats taketh away’, telling you of the families that could potentially be made homeless when 14,000 breadwinners lose their jobs, assuming that they have houses to lose in the first place.
The need to balance the well resourced spin on corporate social responsibility with a good dose of reality, is one of the principle reasons why civil society working on issues of the extractives sector gather at an Alternative Mining Indaba. It is a side event to the big show; the entrance fee to the Mining Indaba is designed to be out of the reach of civil society, hence ensuring their exclusion.
Civil society draws attention to policy issues as well as actions and impact of mining companies that undermine workers, communities and the environment. This year it has delved deep into the underlying issues that Marikana brought into the public eye and much attention is being paid to the poor conditions for communities living next to the mines; absolute poverty at the coalface of absolute wealth.